Is it true my body is not entirely alive?
The dead bits that keep us kicking
So you think you’re all alive? Think again. As strange as it may seem, the human body is not entirely "alive". A small part of us is not alive, never has been, and never will be. Ironically, what's not alive is vital to what is.
Ninety-six per cent of the human body is alive. This part is composed of living, "organic elements" present in many different forms. DNA, RNA proteins, lipids, and sugars are all composed of primarily oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. In addition, water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) as well as other small molecules are involved in these elements. The proportions are oxygen (65 per cent), carbon (18.5 per cent), hydrogen (9.5 per cent), and nitrogen (3.2 per cent).
The remaining 3.8 per cent of the human body is technically composed of non-living, "non-organic elements" in the form of salts. Although their quantities are fairly miniscule, they are absolutely critical for the maintenance of the body's structure and smooth working order. For example, calcium is a major component of bones and teeth. Potassium keeps the heart beating evenly and regularly. Iron is necessary for the movement of oxygen by red blood cells.
The breakdown of this 3.8 per cent consists of calcium (1.5 per cent), phosphorus (1.0 per cent), potassium (0.4 per cent), sulphur (0.3 percent), chlorine (0.2 per cent), sodium (0.2 per cent), iodine (0.1 per cent), iron (0.1 per cent), and magnesium (0.1 per cent). The remaining 0.5 per cent is composed of trace elements, including chromium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, tin, vanadium, and zinc.
Some of these trace elements are part of critical body enzymes. Without these enzymes we’d die and all of our body wouldn't be alive.
Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Urm... now we've had bad editing as well as bad science...
So... Scientists (mostly chemists i feel... so REAL scientists ;-) ) as a whole unite to *ahem* 'peer review' Dr Juan HMD (HotMail Dip.) and El Reg pulls the article... now now now... bit of a blunder but to try and cover it up like that is just naughty... its disappeared from the "The Odd Body" page and from the front page.
For all those that missed Dr Juan's lovely ramblings... (and in case this gets put on the letters page...)
Lighten up people!
Hey, lighten up! Dr. Juan is writing for the generally moronic public, not the staff at Scientific American!
Sheesh! Read him in context, OK? He is clearly using the word "element" in its perfectly fine sense of being another word for "thing."
I thought the various ELEMENTS of DR. JUAN'S ARTICLE, while not technically perfect, made their point clearly.
It all depends how one defines "alive" and at what macro or micro level one applies the definition.
Give him a break.
So water is alive is it?
While this is an interesting idea, that your body is partially not alive, the way it has been presented in this piece is palpable nonsense.
What the good doctor has done is crudely and inaccurately classed organic compounds in the body as "alive" and in-organic as "dead". He has, rather weirdly, included water in the group of things that are "alive". Do you commit murder when you have a drink?
If you took this definition of what is alive and dead then petrol would be very much alive, as would methane gas and good old fashioned ethanol, the intoxicant so many are familiar with.
I love the line "A small part of us is not alive, never has been, and never will be". Actually EVERY small part of us is not alive and never has been. He describes the dead parts in terms of individual atoms or molecules. I know of no definition of life that calls any individual atoms or molecules alive, and that goes for DNA too. A DNA molecule is most emphatically not alive - it cannot do one of the most fundamental of living process, that is replicate itself. It needs to be part of a living cell to do that.
If you were to take any of the elements he has called alive and separated them out they would no more be alive than some of the inorganic "dead" elements he has described. A molecule of protein is no more alive than an atom of iron, or sulphur. It is the combination of all of these components together that make up the organism. And its only the organism as a whole - or any part of it that can live an independent existence such as cells in tissue culture - that can be considered alive.
There are more interesting and much more accurate ways of talking about the "aliveness" and "deadness" of a human body. For example, when you look at someone you only see dead cells, no live ones are visible on the surface of the human body. Every skin cell on the exterior of the body is well and truly dead - like, I hope, this article.